From East Texas to Central Mexico: An Educational Journey

One thing that people like to say about The United States of America is that is very diverse.  While San Miguel de Allende may not be quite as diverse as the entire U.S., it is definitely more diverse than the small area I hail from. I must say that while being forced into the differences in the Mexican culture, I have also met some very interesting people.  I have become acquainted with many more people from all over the U.S. than I ever did in East Texas.  There are many expatriates that have chosen to retire here, and there are the elite that own multi-million dollar homes they visit a few weeks out of the year.  Before we moved to our current location, we used to frequently escape the ghetto by walking downtown to sit in the tranquil Jardín that is right in front of the amazing and beautiful Parroquia which is seen in basically every photo of San Miguel.  As we would sit there admiring the beautiful architecture and basking in the unbelievable weather, I would always have my ears open.  This action was because I longed to hear just one syllable spoken in English.  Always being the dummy that could not speak Spanish while living in Mexico was becoming extremely tiring.  It was always an excuse to skip out on the often long and drawn-out conversations that I really did not wish to participate in, but I did miss actually speaking to people.  More times than not, I would hear some English being spoken in our usual spot downtown.  I absolutely loved eavesdropping on people’s conversations. You see, people always have often mistaken me for being Mexican or at least from some other ethnic origin than Caucasian.  For one thing, my husband is un-mistakenly of Latino descent, and my child inherited a little bit of his coloring with my nose and hair.  I have dark hair, light brown eyes, and skin that tans rather easily so when people see us all sitting together, they automatically assume that I am also Mexican or at least can speak Spanish.  The times we have been sitting next to an American or Canadian, their surprise is very humorous the minute I open my mouth and out comes the East Texas twang that I could not hide even if I wanted to.  I clung to these people in my mind because they would speak, and I would instantly understand instead of my brain being put into overload trying to quickly translate Spanish into English which would ultimately lead to my giving up and asking my husband what they were talking about. One time, I overheard two retiree-aged men, dressed in clean, pressed collared shirts tucked into khaki shorts, discussing the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.  I tried not to be too obvious that I was listening to their very animated conversation about how the legal marijuana was ten times better than the “street stuff” and the ways in which they replenished their stashes when they were in the U.S.  My husband and I discreetly exchanged smiles while they kept talking about the often, highly debated subject.  It was refreshing to see obviously educated people not spout off small-minded rants about how marijuana was a gateway drug, and that people who engaged in this dangerous “drug” had no self-control.  Instead of eating their way into morbid obesity or downing two bottles of wine every night, they used their “stash” to unwind after a day of hard work.  They of course had no idea they were being eavesdropped on, but honestly, I don’t think they would have cared if they knew.  I remember meeting two ladies a little older than my mother that were on vacation from Houston.  They were both obviously the type that did not enjoy the late-night partying or clubbing that goes on downtown but instead were there to simply enjoy the beauty and of course the weather.  I gathered this by the statement they made that by 7 o’clock in the evening, they were usually back in their hotel room in their pajamas.  They asked about where we lived and how long we had been here, and of course I could see the question in their eyes when I said we had moved from the U.S.  I do not like to share my husband’s bouts with the crappy-ass immigration system with everyone because I do not want them to think less of us nor do I want to see their disapproving looks and wonder what they will say about us once we are out of earshot so I have developed a way to conveniently compose my conversations without blurting out our true situation. I also do not wish to simply make up lies and stories so I used my well-rehearsed response to answer the lady’s innocent questions about what led us here.

In the early days of “my adventure,” when vacationers would ask about touristy things to see and do my husband would always answer their questions, but after a while, I found myself being able to answer their questions.  I could tell them where the good places to shop were and different activities they could engage themselves in.  I even showed an American lady to the correct street she was looking for while I was downtown with my sister without my husband.  There was also the polite and cute couple from Missouri who were on a two-month vacation (must be nice) that thought the main ingredient in a Bloody Mary was celery and not vodka.  This was their first time being in San Miguel, and they had many questions.  I was surprisingly able to answer their questions while making a few recommendations.  I have met and had conversations with many English-speaking people who have nothing but marvelous things to say about San Miguel.  When my mother visited for the first time,  we were relaxing at one of the many spa-type resorts that house swimming pools heated from water from the natural hot springs in the area.  Being the natural extrovert my mother is, she started talking with a couple from Pennsylvania.  I think they thought her accent was amusing, but we were also talking about their accents later.  Yes, my fellow Americans from the Northeast, “y’all” have accents too.  This couple was very nice and relaxed, but they warned my mother not to go back to Texas bragging about how great San Miguel is because they wanted to keep it a secret.  I think a lot of the expatriates along with the natives here prefer it not to become one of those party-like atmospheres where you always hear the bass from a stereo thumping like many of the vacation resorts in Mexico.  Believe me, there are many places to drink and party, but it seems as if people are respectful enough of the city not to let it get out of hand.  It would be a terrible shame if the beautifully constructed sidewalks and superb streets started reeking of urine and vomit.  People here want to keep San Miguel artsy and peaceful.  They do not want the city to lose its magnificent historical touch.

My goal in writing this is to prove that there are many different people in San Miguel.  You have your low-life drunks with no ambition which I am convinced all lived on the street we used to live on. You have your Middle-Class Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, etc. on vacation or have retired here, and then you have your very wealthy people from all over who own unbelievably gorgeous and sprawling mansions.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I wandered up to their door and asked if I could come in just to view their magnificent home.  Believe it or not, judging by the incredibly friendly and cordial nature of the people I have met who obviously are in a much higher tax bracket than I will ever be, there may be a chance that they would humor me and let me in.  The thing about the homes here is that you never know what a home holds on the inside because it is pretty much shut off from the road.  Usually, there is a high wall with a garage door so until you happen to drive by when the owner is pulling in or backing out, you never know what is on the inside nor do you know how big it may be.  The wall off the sidewalk usually not only houses the actual home, it also holds the what we Americans term “the yard,” but it is usually a courtyard with unbelievable landscaping. Vibrantly colored flowers hang from the tops of roof-top decks, and my mind begins to wonder what kind of beautiful furniture and exquisite decorative architecture the home holds.  There have been times when I have almost sprained my neck trying to peer into the garage doors just to get a peek.

As in the U.S., there are many people here that cause people to look at and then turn around and look again.  Yes, there are many gorgeous ladies and “muy guapo” men here; however, there are also the people who work very hard at being one of these “beautiful people,” but just cannot seem to get a hold of it.  I am in no way suggesting that I am one of these people.  Yes I would like to be, but I was not born with a body that automatically shrunk back to a size two a day after child birth like “some people.”  Actually, I think I was probably a size two when I WAS two so that statement does not apply to me at all.  I remember having a conversation with one of our friends visiting from America, and we were commenting on how small a lot of the people are here.  A woman who could most likely shop for her clothes at Baby Gap or The Children’s Place will be walking down the street with her five kids.  I hate to know how all those kids came out of her itty-bitty body.  Anyway, there are many small people, but there are also the people who think they’re small.  Yes, there are plenty.  My husband sells clothes at a local market, and one day we were at the park, and he pointed to a rather rotund woman who, when I took a closer look, rocked an exposed, large belly that was hanging out under her way-too-small shirt.  My husband then told me that she had bought the shirt she was wearing from him.  My husband can be rather blunt sometimes, and he said the day she visited his booth, he told her that he had some X-Large shirts for sale–I must add that I wear about a size ten in jeans (sometimes an eight if I’m lucky and have the energy to fight and dance my way into my clothes and vow not to eat anything that day), and an X-Large is the size I wear in the certain brand he sells.  I have man shoulders and I prefer for my stomach to be conveniently hidden under my shirt.   Anyway, this particular woman angrily claimed that she wore a Medium to my husband.  Whoa!  Really?  No biggie smalls, you are in no way, shape, or form a size Medium, and you might want to consider that the shirt that you affirm you wear a Medium in should also cover your bulging mid-section.  It is very common to see women in clothes that are about two sizes too small here.  If she is one of the naturally small ladies, it’s not that big of a deal, but if the woman in question is unknowingly reppin’ for the hefty side, it’s just not flattering.  I am definitely in no position to judge someone on being heavy, but as a person who has struggled with her weight all her life, I want to grab some of these hot mammas and tell them they would look so much better in clothes that actually fit.  I know some of you are thinking that I am being “beechy” again, and you may say, “Hanna, that may be all she has to wear.”  I know, cálmate!  In my own defense, the particular woman I mentioned above obviously had the money to buy clothes as I’m pretty sure some of the other ladies I am referring to have.  Money is often hard to come by here which is a subject that deserves its own post so I will elaborate on it later.   All I am saying is that if one saves up the money to buy new clothes,  in my opinion, it would be best to spend it on clothes that will flatter.

I must touch on our own little neighborhood.  Ahhhh…our neighborhood.  Not only do we have magnificent views and hard-working employees who keep the area impeccably clean, we have some of the nicest and friendliest neighbors.  You never pass anyone on the sidewalk without he or she quietly uttering a polite salutation.  My toddler has found a friend that is one day younger than he is, and he is gradually working on successful social interacting. Maybe he will one day let his amiga give him a hug without running away from her.  As this post is mainly focused on the diversity of the people in San Miguel, our neighborhood does exhibit this as well.  There is a very friendly man from Haiti who speaks fluent Spanish and lives in Mexico City but also owns a house a few doors down with his little fuzzy dog.  There are a few people from Spain, and the wife of one of my husband’s good friends in the neighborhood is from Cuba.  Oh yeah, and there is also none other than little (or kind of big) American me!  I think I really add to the neighborhood with my hilarious attempts to speak Spanish and the American  music floating out of my windows.  I can speak what people refer to as “survival Spanish.”  I know common phrases, nouns and am gradually struggling through learning the different conjugations of verbs; however, I definitely have a long way to go before I am able to carry on an intense conversation with someone.  Instead of making me feel inadequate for not being able to speak fluent Spanish, all of the people I have met in our neighborhood are very tolerant and go out of their way to accommodate me.  In fact, a lot of people find it interesting that English is my first language, and often request I teach them a few words “en Inglés.”  My husband builds cabinets, and we are constantly having people visiting our home to view the cabinets he has built, and one thing that seems to puzzle them is that we don’t have a formal dining room table.  I don’t see the importance of having “un comedor” (dining room).  The houses are very small in our neighborhood, and many people (I’ve noticed as I nosily peer into their houses when they leave their doors standing open) choose to go without a living room and instead have a complete dining room set—I’m talking the big ones with a huge table and ten chairs.  I’m sorry, but I’d rather have a couch to sprawl out on to eat my guacamole and watch my limited English-speaking TV channels than to sit in a rigid, uncomfortable chair at a table.  We have a small bar off of our kitchen, but my husband is the only one that uses that.  My child has his high chair but a lot of times prefers to wander around the house eating which leaves nice trails of crumbs all over the place.  Yes, maybe if  I had a larger family, the idea of a large dining table would be more appealing, but that most likely will not come any time soon.

Diversity is often a loosely based term. In this case, when I refer to “diversity,” I am not only referring to a person’s nationality or religion nor do I intend to make ignorant, stereotypical remarks that lead you to believe that a;ll people of a certain grouping behave in a certain way.  I am referring to the diversity that exists within all broad groupings of people.  You have your intelligent, high-achieving individuals in every culture as you have your low-life, lazy pieces of ca-ca that everyone looks at with disgust.  You have people who, while they may be struggling to make it, always have a smile on their faces and would give you the shirt off their backs even if it were the last shirt they owned. I have learned that it is important to insert oneself into a sometimes uncomfortable existence to better one’s knowledge of the world.  This is a big world filled with many interesting people, and unless a person is willing to explore outside his or her own “bubble,” he or she may never know what all is out there.  Most importantly if this person chooses to remain in his or her own self-proclaimed bubble, the regret of missing out on developing long-lasting relationships that will affect his or her life in ways that were once unimaginable will always be present.

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